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Monthly Archives: June 2000

this is an article written for ‘precision marketing’ review of the week
column – a UK marketing industry magazine

Responding to signal and noise.


I don’t know if I’m a mover, but I’m definitely a shaker. I pick up
magazines, hold the spine and shake. I buy the magazine, not the inset
cards. I don’t like noise. I like signal.

Similarly, if I visit a
somewhere on the web, it’s because I want to be there – I don’t click a
banner to go somewhere else again. I’m there for the signal and not the
noise.

I’ve got stuff to do,
and not much time to do it (I’m task-driven, time-poor as the
buzzphrases would have it), so maybe if you give me more relevant
signal – your signal – I’ll listen, I’ll click, I’ll buy.

Don’t ‘message’ me –
you’ll get it wrong. Don’t ‘market’ me, ‘target’ me, make
generalisations. Have a conversation with me. Understand me. Help me.
Signal. Create an environment responsive to my needs, and we’ll
connect. I’ll respond.

I’m not alone, and none
of this is new, none of this is controversial. It’s what makes the
biggest, most successful e-businesses the biggest most successful
e-businesses

So, why is it still so noisy out there?

There are still few
people building responsive environments – web sites and services that
attempt to create a dialogue with the user, rather than broadcast
messages at them. Old media mindsets and models abound.

Portal sites popular
with advertisers because of the traffic they create. They purport to be
easy-to-use gateways to the web, such as http://www.freeserve.com or

Although the resulting
noise and reduced comprehension of the site’s core brand and offer mean
that it’s performance can be significantly less supercharged than a
McLaren.

So who gets it right?
Who gets people to buy through establishing dialogue? Well,
predictably, http://www.amazon.com. Every time I visit, it recommends
based on my previous purchases, a book which nine times out of ten is
genuinely interesting to me, which nine times out of ten I buy.

Automated response
mechanisms such as amazon’s recommendations are only part of the
dialogue though. The success of the fulfilment and customer service
that sites such as amazon and Britain’s own http://www.blackstar.co.uk
provide is just as important to their brand offer.

Blackstar’s brand
basically is their customer service. It’s been exemplary every time
I’ve used it and has turned colleagues and friends into unpaid
evangelists for their site.

The power of such word
of mouth advertising has long been coveted by brand managers and
marketers – and the ‘word of mouse’ power of the Internet is touted by
‘viral marketers’ and other new media noise merchants. But so many
viral strategies still smack of broadcast thinking – ineffective when
the network has put the consumer so firmly in control. The fact is that
the most tenacious and virulent messages that traverse the networks of
influence and consumers the fastest, are the purest signals and the
most truthful, useful messages.

A responsive environment
that seizes upon this is http://www.epinions.com – an American site
where not only are products and services rated, but also the reviewers
of the products and services themselves. These reviewers are paid on
the basis of how useful and truthful readers found their reviews. Trust
and honesty are built in to the system. The site is a roaring success.

Users are in control of
your messages. Take a look at http://www.adcritic.com. Their proud
boast on the masthead is ‘all ads, all the time’ – TV ads, removed from
the interstices of content, and presented as 30 second cinema, become
sought after content themselves – pure signal. Needless to say,
adcritic is a responsive environment too – users of the site vote on
their favourite ad spots.

It’d be interesting to see whether their judgements coincide with those handing out the golden pencils…

This is a talk I gave at Jim Flint’s “e-commerce cocktails” event at The Lux Gallery, Hoxton, London, on Friday 26th June, 2000


Preventions and cures.


One of the claims of big ecommerce companies is to be the ‘Architects’ of new markets, experiences, economies…

Parallels to architecture abound in what we do and the roles we give ourselves.

However,
we do not seem to have in place some of the sense of responsibility
that the ‘real’ architectural profession has about what they create.

When
creating a building, a piece of urban fabric, a city-plan – a good
architect acknowledges the aesthetic, economic, social and ecological
context of what they are creating and the implications of their
intervention or innovation in that mesh of context.

Legislation,
the business case and best practice lead them to consider the best
possible route through it all for their client, which will still
deliver a creation of worth and vision –

it’s tough, but that’s why there are only a handful of great architectural practices in the world at any time…

Do we do the same? Do we consider the many-fold impacts of new economy business creation?

For
instance, what if we create a home-banking application, which might put
several thousand bricks and mortar bank clerks out of work, but create
more jobs in a call-center –
what are the quality of life issues there – what are the impacts on
their brand. The project may have been instigated by a CIO or CEO, then
the chief marketer has to do damage control when the media seize upon
the fallout

As we know, we as designers may engage the problem in a multidisciplinary way, but the client may not.

In
a case such as this, an e-business partner that advises on matters
wider than the e-business technology and experience – but also the
business and brand implications of the initiative; not through
platitudes or cyber-liberal new-speak but though proven, rigorous
methods such as lifecycle analysis, brand equity valuation, or the
oft-mentioned ‘triple bottom line’
(http://www.sustainability.co.uk/triple/triple.htm gives good examples
of this); would I believe be seen as a premium, high-value partner by
the market.

If
the advice and work we provide as designers is truly transformative and
strategic i believe we need to need to embrace these concepts.

If
there is a profound change in the way the world works, and we play a
part in directing it, i believe we need to adopt this forward-thinking
attitude.

I
do not wish for a minute to do-down the contributions of big companies
to charity whether through support, sponsorship, active participation
or gifts – but just make plain that there is also a need for the
corporate whole to ACT with social responsibility in everything it does
otherwise we won’t be the architects of the new economy – but the
speculative condominium developers of the new economy…

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